Hans Theessink, 70th Birthday Bash

“Hans Theessink is an international blues treasure. He is one of the world’s pre-eminent country pickers and his warm baritone expresses blues” Blues Revue

Hans Theessink, 70th Birthday Bash, Blue Groove

Dutch acoustic blues master Hans Theessink has been playing the blues for five decades and delighting audiences around the world with his deep, gravelly voice and metronomic country blues finger picking. He’s released more than 30 albums, and has played with artists like Terry Evans, Ry Cooder, the Holmes Brothers and a host of others. At 70, he’s showing no sign of slowing down, constantly playing live music to appreciative audiences and winning new fans.

For many years, Hans has been hosting a “birthday bash,” an opportunity to share another anniversary with musical friends and fans. Last year, for 4 nights in April, Hans celebrated his 70th birthday in the Metropol in Vienna, with musical friends from all over Europe and North America, including The Blind Boys of Alabama , tuba player Jon Sass, the trio Insingizi from Zimbabwe, Austrian singers Meena Cryle and Sassy Holzinger, Danish singer-guitarist Knud Moller, British jazz singer Dorretta Carter and the Zeeland blues band, Champagne Charlie, and Hans’s own band, Blue Groove. Hans is clearly enjoying performing as much as ever – as he said to me a few months ago: “Keep doing what you love doing. And if people catch your enjoyment, you being happy doing what you do, that really rubs off.”

And that’s exactly what you find as you listen to this 2-CD set which captures these upbeat, heart-warming concerts. Now this album really is a delight, and if top-notch roots music is your thing, you need to check it out. It’s got old Theessink favourites, like Vicksburg is My Home, Walking the Dog, Slow Train and Zambesi, some of gospel numbers, a number of blues standards, like St. James Infirmary and some songs with an African feel, helped along by the lovely Insingizi harmonies.

The Blind Boys of Alabama feature on 2 of the songs, Uncloudy Day and Will the Circle Be Unbroken – it’s always great listening to the stirring gospel sound of the Blind Boys and it’s good to hear Jimmy Carter in fine voice at 90.

As you listen to the songs, you realize afresh what a fine guitarist Hans Theessink is – that rhythmic picking, and the fine slide work just draws you in again and again. His singing power is undiminished, too, an unmistakable baritone, and he knows how to turn around a phrase in a song.

It’s hard to pick a favourite out of this collection – but maybe I’d plump for the lively version of Jesus on the Mainline, driven by some nifty slide guitar and cool tuba playing (yes, a tuba can be cool!) and Hans’s own Slow Train which closes the album, a lovely laid back song nudged along by his characteristic guitar picking, with colour added by a number of his musical collaborators. As he sings, “I’ve been on my way for such a long time, Singing the blues up and down this road,” you’re thinking – thanks for that Hans, and may you keep on for a long time to come!